[News] From purple sweet potato pies to chocolate custard buns, Doughappy is Taman Desa’s most popular secret baker

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 24 — They look like miniature pies, with a crunchy, egg-washed exterior. Baked to perfection, one might say. But what lies within?

Take a bite and you’ll discover a subtle sweet filling, its texture somewhere between chunky and creamy. And the colour! That vibrant violet hue!

These are purple sweet potato pies by Doughappy Bakery, Taman Desa’s most popular secret bakery. The preservatives-free purple sweet potato filling is called zǐ shǔ xiàn and also used for their purple sweet potato sourdough doughnuts.

Doughappy Bakery is run by Mia Lee and Sam Chuah, a couple in their early thirties.

Lee hails from Bidor, Perak where her parents sold their homemade breads in front of the town’s bus station. So she has always had an affinity for baking.

When Lee met Penang-born Chuah while studying at UTAR, they decided to pursue her dream to expand her parents’ business and share the traditional taste of homemade bread with others, particularly in big cities such as KL.

Zǐ shǔ xiàn’ or purple sweet potato filling (left) is used for their purple sweet potato sourdough doughnuts (left).

They began by selling their baked goods — Malaysian classics such as sliced bread spread with kaya and Planta margarine, red bean buns and coconut buns — from a food truck in Taman Desa.

Residents soon learned to drop by in the early afternoon to get their favourite items for teatime or to keep for breakfast the next morning.

It was a good start to a fledgling business run by two hardworking, young people. Then the Covid-19 pandemic hit.

Lee recalls, “We lost many customers during that period due to insufficient time to collect contacts when the lockdown was implemented. Luckily, we managed to get hold of some customers from our own taman — they supported us every week for the remainder of 2020.”

During the first lockdown, the duo decided to put their business on hiatus while they regrouped and strategised.

With a database of regular customers, they transitioned to taking WhatsApp orders for their baked goods.

Doughappy Bakery is run by couple Mia Lee (left) and Sam Chuah (right).

Doughappy Bakery is run by couple Mia Lee (left) and Sam Chuah (right).

Even with this stable albeit small clientele, Doughappy’s sales dropped drastically by up to 80 per cent. They were hopeful that business would recover as soon as the lockdown was lifted.

Reality was far harsher, however. Lee shares, “Even after much preparation on the food truck and new menu items, we observed that the usual crowd wasn’t there anymore.

“Many of the shops and restaurants along the same stretch suffered as well and it became apparent to us that we have to focus on our online sales.”

The couple had started using Facebook to market their product even before the pandemic but they soon realised that this was not enough and decided to try the Instagram platform too.

Lee says, “Surprisingly, we got more interaction and response from Instagram compared to Facebook. Thus we now set our weekly menu to be released every Monday night on both our Instagram and Facebook stories for our customers to place their orders.”

This means a new sales process for Doughappy where the couple will first collect and confirm the orders from their social media accounts before delivery on set dates.

Fluffy matcha buns are best enjoyed with some thick red bean paste and cold butter.

Fluffy matcha buns are best enjoyed with some thick red bean paste and cold butter.

Lee adds, “Customers can also collect from our place or arrange their own delivery. To date, we can see our revenue has surpassed our sales when we were operating from our food truck.”

Such a pre-order approach means that the online bakery is able to save time and have less wastage from unsold goods.

However, Lee notes that their working hours have increased as “now we have to record orders, pack and arrange delivery in comparison to our food truck days when customers buy from the truck.”

Regulars now follow their menu drop dates (every Monday night, at 8pm) closely to keep an eye out for new products such as fluffy matcha buns, which are best enjoyed with some thick red bean paste and cold butter.

Aromatic focaccia, studded with black olives, herbs and sun-dried tomatoes, beckon temptingly.

Slicing loaves is a breeze now after purchasing their new bread slicer.

Slicing loaves is a breeze now after purchasing their new bread slicer.

Even something deceptively simple such as their new chocolate custard buns have been a huge hit, straddling the classic and the contemporary.

Lee explains, “We got the idea for our chocolate custard buns when we tried bombolone for the first time. It tastes awesome, however it’s fried and too oily for us.

“So we created this version where we use our own chocolate custard made with high quality Belgian dark chocolate pumped into our soft mini pillow buns.”

The aforementioned purple sweet potato pies and sourdough doughnuts are the latest bestsellers. Lee says, “Everyone loves doughnuts! We were looking for a healthier alternative that has no sugar and uses natural yeast.

“To our surprise, the texture and taste was acceptable though it took some time for our customers to appreciate it.”

New products include focaccia (left) and chocolate custard buns (right).

New products include focaccia (left) and chocolate custard buns (right).

Besides new products, there have been other changes. One seemingly small addition — that of a bread slicer — was life-changing for Lee who risked repetitive task injury from slicing so many loaves of bread by hand.

She adds, “We are also looking for a space to expand our operation as our demand increases. Many customers felt disappointed when their orders could not get through as our production capacity now is limited.”

As a small business owner, one major problem they currently face is increased ingredient costs. Lee explains, “Most of our wheat to make flour in Malaysia is imported from Ukraine and Russia while alternative sources from China and India are impacted by droughts and massive floods.”

Prices of other imported goods crucial for their baking such as butter, cheese, walnuts, etc. have also gone up.

Lee shares, “Overall, ingredient prices have increased four times within 2022 alone. We cope with the increased costs without burdening our customers by spreading out the difference in other areas.”

Who knew so much goes on behind the scenes to make your beloved artisanal doughnut or fluffy pillow buns?

Packing freshly baked buns for customers.

Packing freshly baked buns for customers.

All the more reason to be thankful for our bakers, especially the smaller entrepreneurs who need our support to continue their good work and to make more delicious, healthy treats.

Doughappy Bakery

IG: instagram.com/doughappy_bakery/

FB: facebook.com/doughappybakery/

Operating days: Fri-Mon, with menu release on every Monday night 8pm on their IG & FB story.

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